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Mancini parks Europa crash as City look to Chelsea

MANCHESTER CITY were left to concentrate solely on their title bid after falling agonisingly short of a place in the Europa League quarter-finals last night.

Roberto Mancini's side produced a stirring late comeback in the second half of the second leg of their last-16 tie against Sporting Lisbon but went out on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw.

City seemed in disarray and heading for a third successive defeat -- and possibly into crisis -- after falling behind 2-0, and 3-0 overall, in the first half at the Etihad Stadium.

Yet three goals in the final half-hour changed the picture dramatically as City won 3-2 on the night and re-energised the club after the shock of being knocked off the top of the Premier League last weekend.

City might even have been celebrating the most unlikely of victories had an injury-time header from goalkeeper Joe Hart -- after two earlier strikes from Sergio Aguero and a Mario Balotelli penalty -- not been tipped narrowly wide by opposite number Rui Patricio.

With no cup competitions to worry about, City, trailing Manchester United by a point with 10 games remaining, now return to Premier League action when they host Chelsea next Wednesday.

Mancini said: "If we have the same spirit as we had in the second half we can win the next game against Chelsea.


"And I am confident for the Premier League because we stayed on top for seven months and now we are in second position, one point behind. I am very confident we can win the title.

"I think that now it will be a good fight until the end of the season because we have only the Premier League and we can put all of our strength into this. I think it will be good."

Mancini blamed himself for the exit from European competition.

Despite an attacking line-up, City were laboured and error-prone in the first half and Balotelli was a frustrated -- and frustrating -- figure.

The Italian striker argued with Mancini after conceding the free-kick which led to Matias Fernandez's stunning opener after 33 minutes. Poor defending then allowed Marat Izmailov to set up the second for Ricky van Wolfswinkel six minutes before the break. Mancini said: "In the first half we didn't play, but I am the manager and it's not the players' fault, but mine. I probably made a mistake.


"The players did everything, and fought on the pitch.

"When a manager doesn't prepare well for the game, this happens.

"When I lose a game I think about why I lost and think about where I made mistakes."

On the Balotelli free-kick, Mancini said: "I was disappointed with him when he conceded the free-kick, but it is not his fault we lost this game."